gatherlings

Today is the tenth anniversary of the day that I first moved into a co-op house in Madison.  I’ve been living in an intentional community lifestyle ever since then.

As much as I want to celebrate ten consecutive years of community living and the fact I’ve lived in intentional communities for over one-fourth of my life, it’s not just intentional communities that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve been a Bahá’í for five years, but it’s not just the Bahá’í Faith that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve been concerned for several decades about the state of our world and our continued ability to sustain life on this planet, but it’s not just the environment that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve struggled for months if not years to come up with a single world to really try to describe what it is that I want to write about and why. “A Hundred Hands Will Catch You,” while compelling (and based off a line in a poem I wrote over twenty years ago) still did not quite sum up what I felt this blog was about.

I found myself wanting to reach for something that links all these things.  Community, togetherness, unity, oneness, love…what?  These words seemed so abstract and overused as to become highly subjective and/or meaningless.  Reaching for them felt like reaching for handfuls of air–there was nothing original there, nothing to grab on to.

Then I came upon the word “gather.” Meaning people–gathering people.  Something felt right about this word–a little more concrete.  People coming together for a good reason.  What reason?  Many reasons: to get to know each other, to enjoy each others’ company, to dance together, to pray together, to create change.

One concern I’ve highlighted frequently over seven years of blogging has been the degree to which Westerners tend to live in isolation from each other compared to most of human history.  Our world of intimates has often shrunk to the size of the nuclear family–with not much outside that nucleus–and even that nucleus has been split with single mothers struggling to raise children on their own, giving away significant portions of their income to child care and at the mercy of employers that won’t let them stay home with a sick child.  Regardless of our status, we are left with little time to share with each other, so television, the Internet and video games fill the void.

We’ve let ourselves become broken up as a people.  We’ve become prisoners within castle walls stacked up high with bulk purchases from Sam’s Club.  With the biggest interactions between us and the real world coming through television and the Internet, we can easily become defenseless against the whims of image makers, spin-meisters, and people all too wiling to define our reality for us.  We are, in essence…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMKYj-RAC1c&w=640&h=480]

Scatterlings. I’m reminded by the Juluka song from the early 1980s. It’s hard to find a definition of the word “scatterlings” or how it came into being–a common online definition of the word is “One who has no fixed habitation or residence; a vagabond.” Juluka’s song “Scatterlings of Africa,” according to songwriter Johnny Clegg, was about how all of us Homo Sapiens have our origin in Africa.  The lyrics of the song also speak a lot about searching for truth–the line “on the road to Phelamanga,” refers to a search for the place where the lies end and where there is nothing left but the truth.

Thus the genesis of the new title for this blog: gatherlings. Now that we have scattered ourselves in so many ways, to the extent where human beings and the resources of the earth are becoming more and more exploited, it becomes critical for us to gather together.  Why?  Once again: to get to know each other, to enjoy each others’ company, to dance together, to pray together, to create change.  To gather together is the essence of civilization.  We are still learning to become civilized.  We are still evolving as a species and as a society, and evolve we must if we are to avoid becoming extinct.

a huge blizzard strikes wisconsin just in time for 21 December 2012. you know, the first day of winter. what did you think i was talking about?

As the days and hours counted down to 21 December 2012, Woodman’s, Copps’, Willy Street Co-op and other grocery stores reported extreme crowds and long lines as panicked Madisonians rushed to ensure they would have enough food, water and other provisions for what could be a serious emergency situation.  The University of Wisconsin closed itself last night and today. My supervisor at my new part-time job took the unprecedented step of allowing my co-workers to check and respond to messages from home, in case it was too dangerous to travel to work.  The non-profit where I have my field placement shut down today, and I got a call notifying me that it would be shut down tomorrow. Madison Public Schools were closed today and will be closed again tomorrow. Madison Metro canceled all bus and paratransit service for today, and will decide tomorrow at 4 a.m. whether they will resume service tomorrow.

Mayans, what Mayans?  I’m talking about Winter Storm Draco.

Eh?

IMAG0166

Winter Storm Draco, as of 10 a.m. this morning. Not as evil-looking as the name might suggest.

Earlier this week, Madisonians got news that a big blizzard would be headed our way.  The snowfall estimates kept on climbing through the week.  The blizzard struck late last night or early this morning, sometimes accompanied with thunderclaps which, yes, sometimes occur with major winter storms.  Most people stayed home from work today rather than risk going out into the snowstorm, which, with its 45-50 mph gusts, created whiteout conditions.  There have been power outages in the area, and I resorted to typing this post on a text editing program on my computer because power flickers here have played havoc with our Internet service and wiped out my first attempt at writing this post.

As for the people who predicted that the world would end tomorrow: well, the people worried about the predictions are largely of European, not Mayan ancestry.  At least Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is able to keep a straight face about the whole thing:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebtj3gDaE64&w=640&h=360]

Indeed many real-life Mayans are not happy about at the misrepresentation of their culture and the way that the government and tourism industries are colluding to making money off this misrepresentation.

In the apocalyptic spirit of this season, The Weather Channel has now taken to naming winter storms in the same way that tropical storms and hurricanes are now named.  Apparently Europe has been doing so for some time, and the Weather Channel argued that doing so here in the U.S. would raise awareness, make it easier to track the storms, allow for better coordination and preparation that could minimize the fallout from such storms.  Plus one can’t argue against the entertainment value involved in tracking such a storm (and the likely number of viewings and website hits that The Weather Channel will likely from this.  As for Winter Storm Draco, the name apparently is that of first legislator of Athens in ancient Greece, and not a nickname for Dracula.

I do think that an important distinction needs to be made –the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy did not involve children celebrating getting out of school and making snow forts and snow angels.

But with work canceled for today and tomorrow, those of us at the co-op house here were able to relax. The children thoroughly enjoyed the snow, and the adults were able to look out over the beautiful whiteness from the safety and comfort from our living room and bedrooms.  We enjoyed the fact that we were forced to relax as our ability to rush around was seriously hampered. I was able to finish the first draft of my paper and have plenty of time to prepare for my final exam and class presentation on the last day of the semester this Saturday, 22 December.

That is, if we make it to Saturday.

’tis the season to, um, well, you know…

Now that I’m a graduate student, Christmas season gets kind of lost in the hustle and bustle of the end of the semester.  Four weeks, five papers, one class presentation, one exam, yeah.  So posts have been slim pickings this month.  But I thought I’d post a cute YouTube video in lieu of a post, while in the meantime I have one paper, one presentation, and one exam to go…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iNxHxwT-b4&w=640&h=360]

a history of shoegaze music

As a DJ, the genre of music that has had the most influence on me is a genre known as shoegaze music–even though most of it isn’t danceable. It is characterized by a “wall of texture and sound” that seems to flood the room.  Characterized by ethereal liquid layers of long, pedal-dampened tones sounding somewhat like sympathetic drone strings on the Indian sitar, the music at times can be moody or dreamy, but at other times can overpower the listener with non-stop pulsating energy.

Alternately thunderous and sensitive, jagged and smooth, harsh and beautiful, this genre seems to mix male and female energies more so than any other genre I’ve seen.  It would not surprise me if a scientific study found that shoegaze bands were more likely than any other genre to be composed of both men and women.  Given that it wasn’t until the 1980s that bands composed entirely of women became widely popular (think The Go-Go’s and The Bangles), this wouldn’t be surprising.

Many people have their own theories about when and how the genre started.  For me, it started with this song I heard by a previously unknown group called the Cocteau Twins while listening to the radio show “The Big Beat” on WXRT in Chicago one night in 1984:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3diz8I0AVVk&w=640&h=480]

I had never heard anything like this in my life. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the lyrics–I would later learn that lyrics are often drowned and barely audible or understandable in this genre.  I bought the album this song appeared on–Treasure.  After listening to it, I went outside and stared at the sky for about three hours.  This was quite unusual for a seventeen-year old for whom staying home on a Saturday night was unheard of.

(I feel I should note here that the Cocteau Twins often avoided the phenomenon of music videos which was sweeping the music industry in the early 80’s.  More recently, many “fan videos” have surfaced on YouTube in an attempt to make up for that.  I’m not sure how the former members of the band feel about it, but some are posted here.)

At that time, the Cocteau Twins sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard before.  I do consider them to be the first “shoegaze” band. As I’ve gotten older and more knowledgeable about music, I now realize that the Cocteau Twins, like any band, had their influences and predecessors.  Counter-intuitive as it may seem, I believe its origins started in the punk movement of the late 70’s with Siouxsie and the Banshees (who, at the very beginning, had a drummer named John Ritchie who would later become known as Sid Vicious).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgE41B3JQF8&w=640&h=480]

Music Journalist Paul Morley wrote this about the band, “The Banshees took a distantly individual way out of punk’s smoking ruins, skimmed past the quaking rocks of a fragmenting pop culture, slyly violated listeners inherited sense of fun and formed and devised their own mighty sense of glamour and passion.”  While widely credited with founding or inspiring the “goth” tradition in rock and alternative rock, I think they also inspired a genre that over a decade later would be referred to as “shoegaze.”

I didn’t realize the clear connection between Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cocteau Twins until I heard the Cocteau’s first full length album “Garlands.”  You can click here for the Banshees’ 1981 release “Spellbound,” and note the similarity with the Cocteau Twins’ “Wax And Wane” off of 1982’s Garlands.

While the Siouxsie and the Banshees continued with a gothic punk/pop sound, the Cocteau Twins’ subsequent releases became less dark.  They approached an almost New Age sound with 1985’s album Victorialand, which opens with the track below, “Lazy Calm.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gvKpKnKocU&w=640&h=480]

Click here to see a video in which the band members collaborated with minimalist composer Harold Budd in their joint 1986 release The Moon and The Melodies.

By the mid- to late-80’s the Cocteau Twins were quite popular on college campuses. While living in the dorms around that time, I knew of many people who were introduced or “turned on” to their luscious sound.  This dormitory ritual usually involved having a friend lie down on a bed, giving them a pair of headphones to wear, asking them to close their eyes and listen to the music.

The Cocteau Twins in their early years were on the 4AD label, and many of their label-mates put out similarly influenced music.  All shared similar traits of textured, layered sounds, moodiness, dreaminess, and sometimes a rather dark sound.  Two songs below from Dif Juz and This Mortal Coil appeared on a 4AD compilation released in 1987 called Lonely Is An Eyesore.  In addition to the above bands listed in this paragraph, the compilation also featured tracks from Colourbox, Throwing Muses, The Wolfgang Press, Dead Can Dance, and Clan of Xymox.  I would consider this the best representation of what was then referred to as the “4AD sound,” and which I consider to be representative of what I call the “first wave of shoegaze.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wsw3YMVlX_E&w=640&h=480]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUbQiUv1QHo&w=640&h=480]

What many people consider (including Wikipedia’s writers) to be the beginning of shoegaze I consider to be the “second wave.”  One of the bands, Lush, had an EP and their first full length album produced by the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie.  (See this link for a Lush song that  connects the shoegaze and punk genres).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHRyODdneds&w=640&h=480]

But other bands developed independent of the Cocteau Twins-4AD heritage.  One band widely considered by many to be the founder of the “shoegaze” sound is My Bloody Valentine.  Their sound was distinct from that heard on the 4AD.  Their 1991 release Loveless was highly influential, and the album’s opening song in the video below made a bombastic statement about the band’s new direction:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyYMzEplnfU&w=640&h=480]

Another band associated with the shoegaze genre, Ride, took a distinctly 60’s influenced route. Their song “Seagull” off the Nowhere album in 1990 I would consider to be the ultimate air-guitar anthem, but there’s not any good videos of it on YouTube–this link, however, presents the song with goodsound quality  Below is the opening track off of their 1992 release Going Blank Again.  N.B.–in 1991, I was lucky enough to see Ride open for Lush at Cabaret Metro in Chicago.  The two bands on that tour reportedly took turns being the opening and headlining act.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4JZIfx36Bg&w=640&h=480]

Another band from this era that was highly influential was Slowdive, who had a more dreamy take on the genre.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU6TDgqFXbc&w=640&h=480]

It was around 1991 that the word “shoegaze” began to be used by British music journalists to describe the genre, and it wasn’t mean as a compliment.  It referred to the fact that band members were often seen looking down at their feet–likely due to the genre’s heavy reliance on guitar pedal effects.  But this was also around this time that the record industry–looking for a sure seller–started goose-stepping to grunge, at which point genres like Shoegaze and Baggy were tossed aside and ignored.

However, starting in the 2000’s, shoegaze started making a comeback and began what I call it’s “third wave,” which continues today–which many refer to as “nu-gaze.”  In my view, this revival became possible with the advent of online music and Internet radio, which lessened the ability of record companies to decide for the masses what music they would hear, and had an effect of democratizing the music business to a certain extent.  As such, many musicians began to look at the first two waves of shoegaze music for influence, and the genre is more diverse than before.  Below are some contemporary examples of this “third wave of shoegaze” and you can see these bands intertwine other musical influences such as 80’s pop, Sonic Youth, bubblegum pop jangle pop, Brian Wilson, and even disco.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhVkiOar0Ew&w=640&h=480]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bzge5vY72hE&w=640&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJOaE07BpT8&w=640&h=480]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLVrTruj_Aw&w=640&h=480]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRR7vxiKBnM&w=640&h=480]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmK65dlPNTs&w=640&h=480]

As a DJ, I have often wanted to find a way to bring shoegaze music to the dance floor.  I’ve found ways, but it hasn’t always been easy.  But one thing I’ve been seeing more of recently is dancefloor-friendly shoegaze.  Soundpool‘s 2010 release “Mirrors In Your Eyes” was a significant change for them in that they blended shoegaze and disco, and Ulrich Schnauss has made dancefloor accessible shoegaze style music for years.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMFR0-AuwC4&w=640&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jW30NL275Q&w=640&h=480]

And finally, here is a shoegazing tribute from someone who clearly understands the diversity of the genre.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0jtZoEqwnM&w=640&h=480]